FOXBORO, Mass. — Just a few days before getting released by the Patriots, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth gave teammate Kyle Love some high compliments. Now, with Haynesworth out of the picture, Love might be the greatest beneficiary with less of a logjam at the position.
"Awesome player," Haynesworth said last Thursday. "It's hard to believe it's only his second year."
Love has been one of the Patriots' most surprising contributors this season, playing well above expectations while starting in the team's last five games. He has already earned a brunt of the snaps alongside Vince Wilfork, but Love should get a bump in play without Haynesworth in the rotation.
Love, who went undrafted in 2010, has improved his ability to knife through the line and put some heat on the quarterback, and he has been sturdy against the run, too. There's plenty of work to do, but he has turned some heads around the league after playing a small role as a rookie.
While brushing off Haynesworth on Wednesday, Jets head coach Rex Ryan made sure to point out Love as an "underrated" player who was more of a focal point on this week's game plan than the former $100 million man.
Love said he appreciated the compliment, but in his mind, it came a year and a half too late. The 25-year-old from Mississippi State is out for revenge against every team that passed him by during the draft, which saw 25 defensive tackles get selected.
"I was just sitting around waiting [during the draft], and then nobody called," Love said. "It just kind of went overboard as the chip-on-my-shoulder thing. Any team I play, I just feel I have to go out there and play hard."
Love's agent told him during the draft that a few teams, including the Cowboys, Giants and Falcons, were interested in selecting him in the sixth or seventh round. When that didn't happen, he was told the Patriots wanted to sign him, and he immediately jumped at the opportunity to play for a team that he respected from afar.
"Actually, I've always been a fan of the Patriots," Love said. "My agent talked to me about it, and he said Bill [Belichick] wanted to bring me in and all that. As soon as he said 'Bill,' I was, 'Come on, let's do it.' I was ready."
While second-year players figured to be at a disadvantage with the lockout, Love clearly made the most of it. He said it was tough to work out on his own, but he went back to Mississippi State to work out with head strength coach Matt Balis, who introduced him to a boxing routine that helped him with his breathing and conditioning.
Love also worked out in a sandpit, and he credits that to helping his drive off the ball, leg work and movement. That has contributed to a rise in success this season that everyone has noticed.
"He's taken it upon himself to be good," Wilfork said. "He's worked hard. He put in the work. I don't think there's a guy out there that can say he hasn't done that, and it's showing. He's making plays. He's making a lot of plays. I think sometimes you get overshadowed with everybody else out there, but he's a player that is doing very, very well for us. I'm happy he's playing well because the more confidence a guy can have, the better off we'll be as a defense."
Love isn't the kind of guy who will let his skills plateau, either. He's got a blue-collar attitude that stems from growing up in a military family, and he'll always be out to prove the non-believers wrong.
"[The] chip gets bigger every week, especially when I play teams that looked over me," Love said. "My chip is always going to stay there, and it's going to grow every day, every week, every year. I'm going to play hard."
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